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Marc Roby: We are taking a short break from our study of systematic theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Our country has been in serious turmoil since the disturbing video of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th. A number of protests have turned into destructive riots and the Black Lives Matter movement has become very prominent in the news. Dr. Spencer, why do we want to address any of these topics in this podcast?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the title of our podcast says, we are interested in looking at what the Word of God says about the world we live in and how we, as Christians, should live. The Bible isn’t only relevant on Sundays when we go to church, it is relevant all the time in every arena of life. The idea that we can neatly divide our lives into secular and sacred parts is completely alien to the Bible and, therefore, is alien to true Christianity. The Bible is the ultimate authority for a Christian and whenever we need counsel about how to respond to any situation, it should be the first place that we look.

Marc Roby: And what does the Bible have to say about our current situation?

Dr. Spencer: It has a lot to say. It tells us, for example, about our purpose, place and priorities in life. And we need to look at these first in order to set the stage for discussing specific current issues in our society. These are foundational for a truly biblical worldview and we can’t properly understand any issue without that. Let’s begin by looking at our purpose. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Dr. Spencer: And the Scriptures they use to support that answer are the classic verses. They first cite 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”[1] There are many other verses they could also have cited though. The Bible is clear that God created this universe for the manifestation of his glory.

For example, in Psalm 19:1-4 we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Marc Roby: That is a great psalm. It begins by speaking about how the inanimate creation displays God’s glory and then it moves on to talk about how God’s Word displays his glory, particularly by bringing about salvation. We read in Verse 7 that “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” And, of course, reviving the soul here is speaking about new birth, or regeneration, and making wise the simple refers to the Bible giving guidance for living day to day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. God’s glory shines most brightly in his work of redemption. Isaiah spoke about this. In Isaiah 60:21 we are told about the future state of God’s church and we read, “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” The English Standard Version renders it more literally, saying, “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.”

That is our purpose as God’s chosen and redeemed people, his church. We are to bring him glory.

Marc Roby: Saying that we are the work of his hands reminds me of Ephesians 2:10 where Paul wrote that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: This idea of our being created for God’s glory is all through the Old and New Testaments. In fact, in the same letter you just quoted from, we read in Ephesians 1:5-6, that God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace”. Then a few verses later in Ephesians 1:12 we read that “we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” And in Verse 14 we are told that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: It is amazing to think that sinners like us can ever bring any glory to the perfect, triune God!

Dr. Spencer: That is amazing. But it isn’t because of what we do, it is because of what he does in redeeming and perfecting us. In his commentary on Isaiah, E.J. Young wrote about God’s glory and said, “This glory is displayed in the whole of the created universe, but was manifested in particular in the history of redemption, … for salvation is a manifestation of the Lord’s glory.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And I think we have provided sufficient support for the idea that our chief end is to glorify God, but the Catechism also says that we are to enjoy him forever. In support of that phrase the Catechism cites Psalm 73:25-26, which say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Dr. Spencer: And those verses also point out that this earth, or we could say this physical universe, is not all there is, there is also a heaven, and we could add, a hell. Our joy is not primarily for this life. A Christian is a pilgrim here, a stranger in a strange land, passing through enemy territory so to speak. We are on our way to our eternal home. The instant we start to let our focus slip to being on our life here on this earth, we have lost the proper perspective for living godly, that is God-pleasing, lives.

Marc Roby: Speaking about our focus makes me think of Hebrews 3:1, where we read, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”

Dr. Spencer: And we read something similar in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus is in heaven and we are to have our focus – our thoughts and our eyes if you will – fixed on Jesus in heaven. This earth is not our home. Our primary purpose has to do with our eternal home, not this temporary earthly home. Although, as we will see, we have serious obligations in this life as well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said the Bible gives instruction about our purpose, place and priorities. We’ve seen that our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. What did you mean by saying that we receive instruction about our place?

Dr. Spencer: I had two things in mind. First, we must know our place as creatures. We have noted the Creator/creature distinction many times and it is essential that we keep this in view. When the Catechism says our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, both parts of that answer are God centered. John Frame points out that “We are not to enjoy ourselves, but to enjoy him.”[3] Ultimately, this refers to heaven of course, but Christians also have joy in this life. In Romans 5:2 the apostle Paul says that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

Marc Roby: And the Rev. P.G. Mathew points out in his commentary on Romans that the phrase “the glory of God” means both the glory God himself has and the glory God will give to us.[4]

Dr. Spencer: Which is joyful to meditate on, we will know this glory in heaven and it will certainly lead to great joy there. But the joy we have in this life does not however, always equate with pleasure in this life. We do have many legitimate pleasures in this life, for which we should give God thanks, but in Verses 3-4 of Romans 5 Paul immediately adds, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point clearly. If we can rejoice in our sufferings, that joy certainly does not equate with our pleasure in this life.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. And we can rejoice in sufferings because, as Paul outlines, we know that God has ordained them for a good purpose. They ultimately help to bring us to that state of glory in heaven. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Knowing that we are creatures made by a good God for a purpose is an essential part of a biblical worldview.

Marc Roby: OK. Now, you said you had two things in mind when you said the Bible instructs us about our place. The first is the Creator/creature distinction, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second is that our place is to live under authority. God has lovingly provided us with everything we need to live godly lives that please him. And part of his loving provision for us are the authorities that he places in our lives.  We all live under authority in some way.

Marc Roby: I remember that way back in Sessions 28-33 we talked about authority in the home, church and state.

Dr. Spencer: And those are the three spheres of authority under which every human being is meant to function. In addition, most human beings also function as a delegated authority in one or more of those spheres at times as well. We have obligations in each of them. We were all at one time children under the authority of our parents. We are all under authority in God’s church, ultimately under God himself, but also under the elders that God places over us. And, the sphere that is relevant to a discussion of current events is that of the state. We are all citizens of some country.

Marc Roby: And we have no choice as to which country we were born in.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. And although some adults can choose to switch their citizenship from one country to another, not all have that privilege.

Marc Roby: Now, certainly, the passage in the Bible that is most relevant to our being under civil authority is found in the book of Romans. In Romans 13:1 we read that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. And we have to remember that Paul most likely wrote this letter either just before or while Nero was emperor of the Roman Empire. Nero was a wicked ruler who persecuted Christians. Paul does not predicate his statement on an assumption that the ruling authorities are themselves good.

Marc Roby: I know that poses a significant problem for some people. For example, it implies that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany prior to World War II.

Dr. Spencer: Which is absolutely true, God did establish Hitler as the ruler of Germany. If God didn’t do it, then who did? Are we to believe that it happened against God’s will?

Marc Roby: That would certainly present problems.

Dr. Spencer: You win the award for the understatement of the year! If Hitler had become the ruler of Germany in opposition to God’s will, then God would not be the sovereign ruler of the universe and we could not rationally trust in any of his promises. After all, they might be negated by the same power that installed Hitler as the ruler of Germany against his will.

Marc Roby: That logic is unassailable, but it does leave us with the unsettling problem of accepting that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany. Hitler was certainly a wicked monster who was responsible for a tremendous amount of suffering and death.

Dr. Spencer: He was, and when we say that God established him as the ruler of Germany, we do not in any way mean to imply that God approved of Hitler or anything he did. I don’t presume to know God’s reasons for putting him in power, but it is not at all logically necessary to assume that God approved of anything Hitler did. This is not the time to get into that discussion, although we’ve dealt with similar issues before and we will again I’m sure.

For now, the point I was making was simply that when Paul says that we must submit to the governing authorities, he wasn’t just speaking about governing authorities that we like, or that we think are good, or anything like that. It was a blanket statement.

Marc Roby: Although there are some exceptions as we discussed in Session 33. For example, if the government tells us to sin, we must refuse. In Chapter 5 of Acts we read about the apostles being brought before the Jewish ruling council to be questioned. In Verse 28[5] we read that the high priest said to them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in [Jesus’] name, Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” To which, Peter and the other apostles replied in Verse 29, “We must obey God rather than men!”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic verse for making the point that we must refuse if we are commanded to sin. We can also refuse to obey if an authority oversteps his bounds. God has defined the three realms of authority and he also set limits on them as we discussed in Session 33.

And this example leads nicely into the third foundational truth we need in order to consider our current political and social crisis. In addition to telling us our purpose and our place within the creation order, the Bible also gives us our priorities.

Marc Roby: Hence the apostles’ statement that they must obey God rather than men.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Our highest priority is God. If our relationship with God isn’t right, then we cannot be the person God wants us to be. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, as we read in Matthew 6:33, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” “All these things” in that verse refers to our food clothing and so on, in other words the things of this world.

The Bible makes it clear that we are to live in the world. We are to work and help others, to feed ourselves and our families and so on. The idea of withdrawing from living in the world in order to be more spiritual is unbiblical.

Marc Roby: Yes, we read in John 17:15 that Jesus prayed to the Father about all who would follow him, saying, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Dr. Spencer: Not only did he not want us to withdraw from the world, but he told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that we are “the salt of the earth”, which refers to salt being used a preservative. He also said, as we read in Matthew 5:14 and 16, that we “are the light of the world” and are to “let [our] light shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven.” Christians are to be a great blessing to the societies in which they live. But we can only do that if we properly apply the Bible to every issue in life. It must set our priorities.

Marc Roby: And yet, I have often heard people, sometimes even professing Christians, say that our faith must be private and can’t influence public policy. In other words, it is sometimes seen as illegitimate in some way to make decisions about how to vote and so on based on the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: I have had exactly that discussion a few times in my life. People will say that because others do not accept the authority of the Bible, it is somehow wrong to base public decisions on it. After all, they will say that religion is a private matter. But then turn that around and you will see how specious the argument is. Is it somehow improper for an atheist to use human reason as his ultimate authority in making decisions because I reject that ultimate authority? Of course not. Every person is going to use whatever his ultimate authority really is when he makes decisions. In fact, you can’t avoid doing so. When someone who professes to be a Christian uses human reason as his ultimate authority, he is being inconsistent and is, in a sense, denying Christ as Lord and functioning as a practical atheist.

Marc Roby: That’s a serious charge.

Dr. Spencer: It’s a serious matter. Christians must not surrender the public sphere to atheist ideologies. We must bring the Bible to bear on issues in society.

Marc Roby: I sense that we are heading into a somewhat different topic, so perhaps this is a good place to end for today. I look forward to continuing this discussion next week, and I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1972, Vol. 3, pg. 444

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pg. 303

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 256

[5] The audio incorrectly says Verses 38 and 39 in this part.

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Yes Single


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Marc Roby: We are interrupting our study of systematic theology to deal with a significant current event; namely the corona virus pandemic.

As we come together to record this podcast, President Trump has declared a national emergency, virtually all professional and collegiate sporting events have been cancelled for at least the next few weeks, and almost all concerts and other public gatherings have been cancelled in the United States and many other countries as well. Most schools are closed and some major cities have told people to stay home entirely. In addition, the stock market has been on a wild roller coaster ride for about three weeks and the Dow Jones Industrial Average currently sits more than 31% below its peak from just over a month ago. All in all, this is a very troubling time for many people, and so the question arises, “How should a Christian respond to circumstances such as these?” Dr. Spencer, how would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as always, a Christian should turn to the Word of God and prayer to understand how to respond. In other words, we prayerfully meditate on God’s Word, specifically asking the Holy Spirit to show us through the Word what we should do. And when we do that, at least one thing becomes crystal clear.

Marc Roby: What is that, that becomes so clear?

Dr. Spencer: That a Christian should not be anxious. We know God and that knowledge should give us confidence and peace. For example, look at Psalm 55, which is a lament that was written by King David, in Verse 22 we read, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”[1] The apostle Peter was most likely thinking of this verse when he commanded us, in 1 Peter 5:7, to “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.”

Marc Roby: Well, that sounds easy, but it is hard to do at times.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly can be difficult. But if we spend some serious time in prayer and meditating on the Word of God it is achievable. This is an example of how systematic theology is very important. If our faith is built on the mushy foundation of feelings or the fatally flawed foundation of the modern health and prosperity gospel, then our faith will fail when we experience serious trials. And even if we have real faith, but have not studied God’s Word, trials will cause our faith to falter, although God will not allow it to fail completely. But if we have a solid faith based on new birth, real repentance and an intelligent understanding of the Word of God – in other words, an understanding of systematic theology – then we can overrule our natural, emotional response and be filled with confidence, hope and joy even in the midst of great trouble.

Marc Roby: And that is why we do this podcast. Our goal is to help Christians to develop a better understanding of systematic theology.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And if we have an understanding of systematic theology, then in times of trouble we will be able to stand. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:14, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves”.

Through prayer and meditation on the Word a mature Christian can, in essence, give a sermon to his own soul and command himself to respond correctly to any situation.

Marc Roby: Very well, given our current circumstances, what would you say to your soul in this sermon?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing we must always remember is that God is in control. In Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” We have to remember that nothing that happens is outside of God’s sovereign control. Jesus told his disciples, in Matthew 10:28-29, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”

His point was clear. We shouldn’t fear anything in creation because creation is completely under the control of God. Even seemingly insignificant details like the death of sparrow are under God’s control. Therefore, God is the only one we should fear.

Marc Roby: Mentioning insignificant details makes me think of a passage in Luke that is very similar to the one you just quoted from Matthew. After saying that God does not forget about the sparrows, Christ says in Luke 12:7, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Telling us that God has numbered the hairs on our heads is a clear indication that God knows every detail in creation.

Dr. Spencer: And more than just knowing every detail, God controls every detail. He created, he sustains, he governs and he will judge. We still make free decisions of course, but God orchestrates everything that happens. And that includes the corona virus and the stock market.

Marc Roby: That is hard for people to accept because they think God can’t possibly be in control of unpleasant circumstances. After all, the thinking goes, isn’t God entirely good?

Dr. Spencer: And the biblical answer is of course that yes, God is entirely good, and he is also sovereign. If he weren’t sovereign, then we couldn’t trust any of his promises. We could never be sure that he had the ability to keep them. But he does have the ability because he created this universe and it is entirely under his control. Therefore, a proper understanding of the Bible must include realizing that God is in control of everything, even seemingly bad things that happen. We have to be humble enough to realize that we often can’t see God’s purposes in allowing what we think of as bad things to happen.

Marc Roby: One classic biblical illustration of this is found in the life of Joseph. His brothers, out of jealousy, sold him into slavery in Egypt. After Joseph spent years as a slave and then even as a prisoner in Egypt, God orchestrated events so that Joseph rose to be second only to Pharaoh himself. Then, many years later, when there was a great famine, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food and had to come face to face with him. They didn’t recognize him and he didn’t reveal his identity at first, but he did eventually. Later, when their father Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were worried that he would exact revenge on them. But we read in Genesis 50:19-20 that “Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a classic example. We can’t see or understand all of God’s reasons for doing the things he does, but we can know for certain that he is sovereign and that he is good. And, knowing those things, we can trust him, most especially when we don’t understand a particular series of events.

And there is an even more amazing example of this in the New Testament.

Marc Roby: You must be speaking of the crucifixion itself.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right. Here is the most wicked thing ever done by man. Men crucified the Lord of glory. And yet, we read about the disciples praying in Acts 4:27-28 and they said to God, “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

Marc Roby: That is astounding to consider. God had ordained this most wicked act.

Dr. Spencer: And out of that great sin came the redemption of God’s people. The greatest good ever accomplished for men came out of the worst sin ever committed by men.

Marc Roby: I think that clearly establishes that God is able to bring good results out of terrible circumstances. What else would you say to yourself in this sermon?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the second thing I would say to myself is that we need to remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28. He said, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse is universally true, it is not suspended when we go through some trial that we don’t understand.

Marc Roby: It requires faith to accept the truth of that statement when we are troubled.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it does for sure. But if we remind ourselves that God created all things and then remember things like the story of Joseph and the crucifixion of Christ, we can clearly see how God has used terrible events to bring about good ends in the past and that he has the power to do so again in the future. Therefore, we can trust his promises.

But we do need to notice that Romans 8:28 does not say that in all things God works for the good of everyone, it only says he does so for those who love him. We need to make our calling and election sure. We need to be certain that we are among those who love God.

Marc Roby: And if we do, then we can claim his promises for ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in Jeremiah 29:11 God tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. What else would you say in this sermon to yourself?

Dr. Spencer: I would remind myself of the purpose of life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul tells us, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This is a familiar verse, but we need to think through the application of it to a situation like this.

If I am to do everything for the glory of God, then obviously I am to glorify God in how I respond to troubles.

Marc Roby: The people who know us will certainly take note of how we respond. Our colleagues, neighbors, friends and family are watching all the time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. If you identify yourself as a Christian, and we all must, then people definitely keep watch. And our response to trouble can either glorify God or demonstrate that our faith is really a powerless façade. If we stand around the coffee machine at work and moan and groan with everyone else about how much money our 401K lost this past week and talk about how worried we are about the possibility of catching the virus, we prove that our faith makes no real difference in our life. Our so-called Christianity only matters for an hour or so on Sunday mornings.

Marc Roby: And that is not a Christianity that God accepts.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. Because it isn’t real. If our claim to being a Christian is real, it means, as we have been discussing recently, that we are united to Christ by faith. We are adopted children of God. We know that this life is short and that we are just on a journey to a better place. This world is not our home. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord as Paul tells us in Romans 8:39, and that includes the corona virus, or a financial collapse, or anything else that might happen.

Marc Roby: Even death itself.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, even death itself. If God calls us home it is gain for us, although it may be difficult for our loved ones. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Now, we really must have an eternal perspective to properly evaluate the troubles in this life.

Marc Roby: Alright. To summarize what you’ve said so far, your sermon to yourself would begin with the following three points: first, God is in control. He is sovereign over all things. Second, God works all things for the good of those who love him. And third, the purpose of life is to glorify God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but the third point contains a bit more. We must ask how we are to glorify God. And Jesus himself gave us the answer. In John 17:4 he was praying to the Father and said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” In other words, we glorify God by our obedience.

Marc Roby: As you noted earlier, we can only lay claim to God’s good promises if we love him. And Jesus told us in John 14:15 that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, this is the essence of true love for God. True love for God must be based on a proper understanding of the Creator/creature distinction. He is the Creator and we are his creatures. He made us for a purpose and if we truly love God, we should do our very best to fulfil that purpose. And the wonderful truth is that this is also our greatest joy. We were made in God’s image for the purpose of ruling creation in his stead and in so doing bringing him glory. And when we do our best to fulfil that purpose, we also find our greatest joy.

That is why the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Marc Roby: I think most people can remember the joy they have had when they did something really well, something which pleased their parents, or a teacher or a boss.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. That is our greatest joy in life; to be doing that which we were made to do and to do it well. Obedience brings joy. Disobedience brings depression.

And so, we come to the final point of the sermon I would give myself, which is also where we began. You asked me what is the first thing that would be clear after we spent time praying and meditating on the Word of God about our current troubles and I said it was that we should not be anxious.

Marc Roby: And I can clearly see that that is a reasonable conclusion from the sermon you would preach to yourself. When we take into account the first two points; namely the fact that God is fully in charge and that in all things he works for the good of his people, well, we should be comforted and should not be anxious.

And then, when we consider the third point, that our purpose in life is to glorify God, which means to obey him, and we look at his command to not be anxious but to cast our cares on him, well that should finish the job. We not only have good cause to not be anxious, but our sovereign Lord commands us to not be anxious.

Dr. Spencer: That is the right conclusion. In Philippians 4:6-7 the apostle Paul commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is both a command and a glorious promise. Paul assures us that if we go to God in prayer, with thanksgiving, and present our requests to him, then he will give us the peace of God. In other words, the peace that God himself possesses.

Marc Roby: That is a staggering thought.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But this explains how Christians can be at peace in situations that are absolutely hopeless in a purely human sense.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the apostle Paul in prison in Philippi.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example of a Christian being at peace in trying circumstances.

Marc Roby: In Acts Chapter 16 we read about Paul and Silas being in prison together there in Philippi. We are told that they were severely flogged, put in an inner cell in the prison with their feet in stocks. And yet, in Acts 16:25 we read that “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly a peace that transcends all understanding. And we know that God used this situation to bring about the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his entire household.

Marc Roby: That is amazing.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. When we have real faith and it shows in our having peace in times of trial, that is a great witness to those around us. We will then often have opportunities to explain why we aren’t distraught about the drop in the stock market or the threat of the corona virus or whatever. Not only will we glorify God by behaving this way, but we will, like Paul and Silas, enjoy the peace that passes all understanding ourselves. We have nothing to fear from the corona virus or anything else in this world.

If we are God’s children, then he is for us and he will watch over us. That doesn’t mean that our 401K might not suffer tremendously, or that we won’t get sick and die. But it does mean that we will spend eternity in heaven with God, worshipping him and enjoying fellowship with him and with each other forever.

Marc Roby: Would you like to say anything else before we close for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. When we pray, we should always remember to pray with thanksgiving for all the good things that God has done for us. And it is also good to pray for others. First because prayer is powerful, but also praying for others helps to give us proper perspective. At a time like this we should, for example, pray for wisdom for our leaders, God’s protection for people in the medical profession, God’s protection and mercy for the most vulnerable people in society and for those whose jobs are adversely affected. We should also, as always, pray that God be glorified and use the situation to save people.

Marc Roby: That’s a great reminder of our privilege and responsibility as Christians to pray for others. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to answer you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our session last week we started to look at the doctrine called limited atonement and you said that you wanted to follow John Murray’s outline for covering the atonement. He began by noting that all of Christ’s work could be subsumed under the rubric of obedience.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a critically important point since, as we read in Romans 8:29, we were “predestined to be conformed to the likeness”[1] of Jesus Christ. If his whole life’s work can be properly characterized by obedience, and Murray is certainly correct in saying that it can, and if we are to be conformed to his likeness, then it must also be true that our lives should be characterized by obedience.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a perfectly rational conclusion, and we could add that our obedience should be increasing all the time.

Dr. Spencer: We could add that yes. All true Christians are in the process of being sanctified. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

And, in Christ’s great high-priestly prayer in John Chapter 17, he says to the Father, as we read in Verse 4, that “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The conclusion is obvious. To glorify God, which is our purpose in life, we must obediently complete the work he has given us to do, just as Christ himself did.

Marc Roby: And this reinforces the point we made at length in Session 121 that true Christians walk in what Paul called the obedience of faith[2].

And, after presenting the obedience of Christ as the “comprehensive category under which the various aspects of Biblical teaching may be subsumed”, Murray went on to say that “The more specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ are sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.”[3] So, how would you like to begin to look at these categories?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take them one at a time and begin with the first one he lists; namely, sacrifice. I first want to show that Murray is correct in saying that the Bible presents Christ’s work of atonement as a sacrifice and then explore a bit what that means. If we turn to the book of Hebrews, we find a clear presentation of this idea. In Hebrews Chapter Nine the author speaks about the Old Testament sacrificial system. He describes the setup of the tabernacle and refers to the inner room or Most Holy Place, which contained the famous ark of the covenant.

Marc Roby: That ark contained the stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And our listeners may remember that the high point of the Jewish year is now, and has always been, the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. On that day during the Old Testament period, the high priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the cover of the ark, which was called the atonement cover.

Marc Roby: And it is worth noting that only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place and even he was only allowed to do so once a year.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. This was the most sacred duty the high priest had. Remember that the Most Holy Place was in the tabernacle, which was also called the Tent of Meeting since that is where God said he would meet with the representative of his people.[4] The symbolism is that when God, who said he would appear in a cloud above the ark,[5] looked down at the ark, he would see the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the cover and that would block his view of the law, which his people had broken.[6]

In any event, in Hebrews 9:7-9 we read that “only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”

Marc Roby: In other words, the Old Testament sacrificial system was not ultimately capable of dealing with our sin problem. It pointed toward a greater reality.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. And the writer of Hebrews explains this. In Hebrews 9:11-14 we read, “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Marc Roby: That clearly tells us that Jesus “offered himself” to God, which means he was the sacrifice, the ultimate Passover lamb. In fact, in John 1:29 we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus he said to his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Dr. Spencer: And the writer of Hebrews also uses the word sacrifice. In Hebrews 9:26 we read that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And the Greek word used here for sacrifice is θυσία (thusia), the normal word used to describe the Old Testament sacrifices.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think we have established that Christ’s atoning work can be described as a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: And, in addition, we have shown how the Jews at the time of Christ would have understood that idea. They would have understood it in the context of the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Marc Roby: Which involved far more than just the sacrifices performed on the Day of Atonement. Sacrifices were a normal part of worship in the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: They most definitely were. The animals offered in sacrifice were intended to be received in place of the person bringing the offering, in other words, they were substitutes. God instructed his people through Moses how the sacrifices were to be made. In Leviticus 1:4 we read that the person bringing a sacrifice “is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”

Marc Roby: This is the doctrine called substitutionary atonement. By laying his hands on the animal, the sinner was symbolically transferring his sins to that animal.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It was the person who had sinned and deserved to die, but God graciously provided this means of atoning for his sin. It is bloody and disgusting, especially to modern people like us who purchase our meat in shrink-wrapped containers at the grocery store, but it was meant to be a reminder of the seriousness of sin and the fact that it must be punished.

And, as Murray notes, “the Old Testament sacrifices were basically expiatory. This means that they had reference to sin and guilt. Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed.”[7]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted, this provision is gracious. It would have been just of God to demand the life of every sinner.

Dr. Spencer: In which case there wouldn’t be anyone left. But God’s plan is to create and to purify a people for himself. And this is the way he has chosen to do it. The Old Testament sacrificial system was incapable of ultimately solving our sin problem, it pointed to Christ.

The author of Hebrews points this out when we read in Hebrews 10:1-4 that “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Marc Roby: The logic of those statements is impeccable. If the Old Testament animal sacrifices had been ultimately efficacious, they would have stopped. There would not have been any need to repeat them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the logic is unassailable. And the writer goes on to contrast the limited nature of the Old Testament sacrifices with the ultimate efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. We read in Hebrews 10:10 that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: I like that phrase, “once for all.” It reminds me of what Jesus himself declared from the cross. We read in John 19:30 that “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Christ’s work of redemption was finished.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. In one sense, there is still work to do since God has not yet called all of those whom he has chosen to repentance and faith. And he has not yet finished working in those whom he has called, we are still in the process of being sanctified. But in another sense, the job is finished. There is no further need of sacrifice. The work of redemption is complete, all that is left is the application of that work to individual believers.

Marc Roby: It is wonderful to know that the end is absolutely certain. God’s plan will be executed without fault. We can be absolutely sure of all of his promises.

Dr. Spencer: And of all of his threats. There truly is only one thing needful in this life, and that is to come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. All of God’s enemies will be eternally destroyed and all of his people will enjoy eternal life in his presence. The best bumper sticker I’ve ever seen simply said “I know what happens in the end, God wins!”

Marc Roby: I like that.

Dr. Spencer: There is, however, one more important point to make about Christ’s atoning work being presented in the Bible as a work of sacrifice.

Marc Roby: What point is that?

Dr. Spencer: That Christ was not just the sacrifice, he was also the priest. John Murray wrote, “That Christ’s work was to offer himself a sacrifice for sin implies, however, a complementary truth too frequently overlooked. It is that, if Christ offered himself as a sacrifice, he was also a priest. And it was as a priest that he offered himself. He was not offered up by another; he offered himself. This is something that could not be exemplified in the ritual of the Old Testament. … in Christ we have this unique combination that serves to exhibit the uniqueness of his sacrifice. The transcendent character of his priestly office, and the perfection inherent in his priestly offering.”[8]

Marc Roby: As we noted last time, Christ was not put to death against his will, he was actively obeying the Father in allowing himself to be crucified.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an amazing truth. And it makes me think of the best human illustration I’ve ever heard about God’s plan of salvation.

Marc Roby: What illustration is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I think it was R.C. Sproul that I heard tell this story, but I don’t know exactly where I heard it. In any event, it goes something like this.

There was an earthly king who discovered that someone had stolen something very precious to him. So he issued an edict that a search should be made throughout his kingdom to find the object. And, if the person who stole it was identified, he specified that the punishment would be 40 lashes with a serious whip.

Marc Roby: That’s a very harsh punishment.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I said, the object that was stolen was precious to the king, and we must remember that the offense was against the king, not just against some ordinary citizen. But to continue with the story, when the object was found everyone was shocked to learn that it was the king’s own very old mother who had taken it.

Marc Roby: That would put the king in a very difficult situation given the punishment he had decreed for the offender.

Dr. Spencer: It would indeed. In fact, the king’s mother was so old and frail that 40 lashes would undoubtedly kill her. But the king had issued his edict and it would be patently unjust of him to change the punishment solely because the offender turned out to be someone he personally knew and loved.

Marc Roby: So what did he do?

Dr. Spencer: He did the only just thing, he ordered that she be given the 40 lashes. And you must picture the scene. The king’s men take his frail old mother and tie her to the post, and the man with the whip steps back and looks to the king for the order to begin the sentence.

The king does, in fact, order that the sentence be carried out, but at the same time he wraps himself around his mother so that the blows all fall on him and his mother’s life is spared. By doing this, the king could demonstrate both his justice in making sure that the appropriate punishment was meted out and his great mercy in taking the punishment himself in order to spare his mother.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful illustration. Jesus had always had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and it is impossible for us to imagine the pain he endured when the Holy Spirit abandoned him and the Father poured out his wrath on him.

Dr. Spencer: We get some small indication of the pain from Jesus’ cry from the cross. We read in Matthew 27:46 that when Christ was on the cross, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, where King David uttered the same cry.

Dr. Spencer: But in the case of King David, the reality is that God never completely abandoned him. Whereas God did abandon Jesus while he poured out the full force of his wrath upon him.

We need to recognize how terrible sin is. In order to solve our sin problem and save us, it required God the Son to become incarnate and it required that the perfect fellowship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had enjoyed for all eternity to be broken for a time on the cross. It is simply not possible for us to fully grasp this. It is the ultimate possible expression of love, not just on the part of the incarnate Jesus, but on the part of the infinite, eternal, triune God.

Marc Roby: That is incredible to consider. Are we done with looking at the fact that the Bible presents Christ’s work of atonement as being a sacrifice?

Dr. Spencer: Yes we are. So we are ready to move on to the second category Murray mentions; the Bible also represents Christ’s work of atonement as being a propitiation.

Marc Roby: And that will have to wait for our next session. But now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See Romans 1:5

[3] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[4] See Ex 25:22

[5] See Lev 16:2

[6] See P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 150

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 25

[8] Ibid, pg. 28

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to examine biblical anthropology; that is, the study of man.

But, before we get started, we have a special free offer as an Easter gift for our listeners. For the rest of the month of April, 2019, if you send an email to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and request a copy of our Easter book, we will send you a free copy of Rediscovering the True Meaning of Easter, by the Rev. P.G. Mathew. We are confident that you will find that book very edifying. Be sure to include your full mailing address in your email.

And now, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin the study of anthropology?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin our study of man by asking a very basic question, “Where did man come from?” It might surprise people if they haven’t thought about this question, but there are only two possible answers. The first logical possibility is that man is the result of natural processes. This is, of course, the answer an atheist would have to give.

Marc Roby: It is certainly the answer that most of the elite in our culture would give.

Dr. Spencer: And I’m also quite confident that it is the answer you would get from almost every single professor of biology or anthropology on every college campus in this country. It is the answer with which all of the school children in public schools are being indoctrinated as well. But let’s think about that answer for a moment. It requires a number of things to have happened, several of which are so unlikely that the answer is, in my opinion, not reasonable.

Marc Roby: What things are you referring to?

Dr. Spencer: Let me give a short list of those things that would have to have happened, and then we will briefly discuss just a few of them.

First, a natural explanation for the existence of human beings obviously requires that the universe itself exist. Then it requires that the right conditions to make life possible exist somewhere in that universe. And then it requires that non-living chemicals come together and form a living organism; in fact, you need many living organisms and they must be reproducing and competing with one another for survival. Then you need some mechanism for these organisms to change from generation to generation and these changes must be inheritable. If all of these things happen, then the theory of natural selection says that the organisms that are best adapted to the environment will reproduce and survive in greater numbers.

Marc Roby: That’s a reasonable brief outline of what is taught in our schools.

Dr. Spencer: But it’s also a very cursory outline of the process of course, and I’m sure you could find fault with the way I’ve expressed it, but I think it will be adequate for our present purposes as soon as I add one more element. As living beings continue to evolve, they would have to reach a point where they become self-conscious and able to think abstractly about the world they live and to ask the question, “How did I get here?”

Marc Roby: Yes, good point since we are asking that question.

Dr. Spencer: Now I don’t want to take the time to investigate this whole chain of events today, for example, a great deal has been written about the fact that our universe is a very special one. There are many, many characteristics of this universe that have to be exactly the way they are or intelligent life would not be possible. I’m going to leave that up to others to discuss. But we’ve looked at a couple of the other steps before, so let me quickly summarize some of our previous comments and conclusions. Any of listeners who are interested can go to our archive and listen to Session 1 for the details.

In that session I gave four reasons why I think it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist. The first is that you need a Creator to explain the origin of our universe. It is fairly clear from what we now know that this universe is not eternal. It had a beginning, and it will have an end. You can postulate the existence of a multiverse and believe that there are an infinite number of universes out there, but there is no way to confirm or deny such a postulate and I don’t think it really solves the problem anyway.

Marc Roby: Well, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: It doesn’t solve the problem because it seems unlikely based on the characteristics of our universe that such a multiverse would itself be eternal, and therefore you would then have to ask how that multiverse came into existence. If our universe is part of a multiverse you would expect it to share some physical characteristics of that multiverse, so for example, you would expect the physical laws that we observe in our universe to bear some similarity to the physical laws in operation in the multiverse. But the second law of thermodynamics, which is a fundamental law in our universe, is incompatible with eternal existence.

Marc Roby: Can you explain that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, a detailed explanation would take more time than I want to spend on this, but a very simple crude explanation is that the universe will eventually run out of useable energy, kind of like a wind-up clock or toy running down.

Marc Roby: Yes, or like me after a few hours with my grandchildren.

Dr. Spencer: Sort of, although I hope you don’t reach the point of heat death. In any event, if this universe is not eternal, then you need to explain its origin, and I think that requires God.

My second reason for thinking it intellectually untenable to be an atheist is that it is essentially impossible for life to be created by purely natural processes. We discussed this in Session 1. And in that session I noted that biologists estimate that the simplest living cell would require around 250 functional proteins, which are made by sequences of amino acids. I showed that the probability of generating 250 functional proteins by the random combinations of amino acids is less than 1 chance in 1041,000, which is inconceivably small; that’s a one followed by 41,000 zeros. It is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 4,842 times in a row buying just one ticket each time.

Marc Roby: I remember that session, and it hurts my head to even remember trying to grasp numbers that large.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s fundamentally impossible to get a good grasp of a number as large as 1041,000, or of a probability as small as 1 chance in 1041,000. The probability is so insanely small that having trillions more universes, with trillions more planets and making them all trillions of times older than our universe doesn’t change the probability significantly. Interested listeners can go back to Session 1 and, if they are really interested, there is even a pdf file that shows you how to get those numbers.

But let’s move on to my third reason it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist, which is that even if I give you a bunch of single-celled living organisms to get started, the amount of information required to produce a human being is so huge that you have the same kind of probabilistic problem all over again.

Marc Roby: And given the numbers you showed, believing in an old earth doesn’t really help.

Dr. Spencer: No, it really makes no difference to the probabilities whether the earth is 10,000 years old or 4.5 billion years old. 4.5 billion years sounds outrageously long to us, but is literally insignificant in comparison with what would be required to make the probabilities of even a single cell look reasonable, let alone a human being.

Finally, my fourth reason for thinking it is intellectually untenable to be atheist is the impossibility of explaining volitional creatures like us in a universe guided by purely natural laws. All physical laws are either purely deterministic, which are laws that govern, for example, the movements of billiard balls, or they are random. But no combination of randomness with deterministic laws can explain volition.

Marc Roby: Alright, you’ve summarized the conclusions that we came to in Session 1. It seems very unlikely, I would have to say impossible, that there is a valid naturalistic explanation for the existence of human beings.

Dr. Spencer: But before we move on, I would also like to note that if the atheistic worldview were correct, one necessary consequence would be that human life would have no inherent value or purpose. That is why, for example, Albert Camus’ famously proclaimed that “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide”[1],  it’s also why Bertrand Russell claimed that “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built”[2], or it’s the same reason Shakespeare wrote his famous line, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”[3]. Such statements are part and parcel of life in this unbelieving world. There are many different ways that men have expressed the hopelessness of life apart from God, but such hopelessness inevitably comes when unbelievers honestly confront questions of ultimate importance. Questions like, “What is the purpose of life?” or “What happens when I die?”

Marc Roby: Of course, the fact that life is hopeless apart from God says nothing about the existence of God. It is logically possibly that our lives are, in fact, completely meaningless.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that is a logical possibility. But I also think it goes against what every human being instinctively knows to be true. And I don’t think we can entirely dismiss that instinctive knowledge, it is given to us by God. Nevertheless, I don’t offer that point by way of proof at all, only to make clear what the choices before us are.

Marc Roby: Alright. And the only other possibility, of course, is that we are created, right?

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. There is no other logical possibility. And if one of our listeners thinks there is another logical possibility, I’d love to hear it. So please send me an email at info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: And, if we are created, then the obvious question, is by whom?

Dr. Spencer: That is the obvious question. And many religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, don’t really have a single believable creation account. But Jews, Muslims and Christians all at least claim to believe in the account given in Genesis.

We read in Genesis 1:26-28, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”[4]

Marc Roby: That account is fascinating, and it is important to note that it presupposes the existence of the true and living God who reveals himself in the Bible and it tells us that he made human beings in his image.

Dr. Spencer: It also contains a hint of the Trinity since God uses plural pronouns. He says “Let us make man in our image”.

Marc Roby: And he gives to man what is often called the creation mandate, to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s very important. In the Christian view of creation, man has a purpose.

But we must take note of the fact that the mandate was given to Adam and Eve prior to the fall, so it assumed a relationship that ceased to be true when sin entered this world. Namely, it assumed that Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God and, as his creatures, everything they did was done in obedience to him and for his glory. In addition, we can reasonably assume that God told them far more than is recorded for us in the book of Genesis.

Marc Roby: And we are blessed because God has revealed the purpose of life to us in the Bible. We have noted a number of times that God’s overall purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. And with regard to mankind, the clearest verse is probably 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Dr. Spencer: And we aren’t left wondering how we are to glorify God either. In John 17:4 Jesus is praying to the Father and says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Therefore, we glorify God in the same way; by doing the work he has given us to do.

Marc Roby: And Ephesians 2:10 tells us that he has prepared specific work for each one of us. It says that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: And we must note further that it says we are created in Christ Jesus. If a man has not repented of his sins and surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord, he is in open rebellion against his Creator and he cannot glorify him through obedience. But, if he never repents, his eternal punishment in hell will be for the praise of God’s justice. So, in the end, everyone will glorify God.

Marc Roby: Yes, we are told in Philippians 2 that everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In Verses 6 through 11 in that chapter we read the following about Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a marvelous passage. And we can summarize all that we’ve covered so far by saying that the purpose of life for men and women is, first, to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to glorify God by living an obedient life.

Marc Roby: And if we do that, we are promised that we will live with him for all eternity.

Dr. Spencer: Which is a completely incomprehensible blessing. But returning to our topic of anthropology, we have presented the case that there are only two options; either we are the result of mindless natural processes, or we were created by God. If we are the result of mindless natural processes, then it necessarily follows that our lives have no real eternal significance and no purpose. And, I can’t help but add, that if that were true, our minds would simply be a faculty that evolved and made us better able to survive. There would be no good reason for believing that our minds are well adapted to discerning the truth about this world except insofar as it helps us survive.

Marc Roby: But, on the other hand, as creatures made by eternal God, our minds were created by him for the purpose of understanding truth, having fellowship with him, and worshiping him.

Dr. Spencer: And our lives are significant and have a purpose. As we begin to study biblical anthropology, we must remember this critical fact; we are creatures. God made us and he has the authority to tell us what to believe, what to do, what not to do and so on. He is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.

Marc Roby: We’ve talked about the importance of the Creator/creature distinction a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: And we’ve mentioned so often because it is so important. It is very easy for us to slip into the mode of practicing “religion” only for our benefit. That leads to anthropocentric worship, meaning worship that is focused on man. The “gospel” becomes nothing but a program for self-improvement and social change.

But real religion, worship that God accepts, is focused on him. The Bible begins by saying “In the beginning God …”, not “In the beginning man …”. That is why we covered theology proper before getting to anthropology. We must know God in order to know ourselves correctly.

Marc Roby: I like what Calvin wrote. The very first line of his book, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, says, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great opening line. Any attempt to understand man without reference to God is doomed to failure. And we see the terrible results of such failure all around us in our prisons, in poverty, violence, injustice, wars and so on.

Satan does not want people to carefully consider biblical anthropology. He wants us to be fully absorbed in the mundane details of day-to-day living. What is often called the tyranny of the immediate. But Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”[6] And, even though he was a pagan philosopher, he was right about that.

Marc Roby: I think that’s a great place to end for today. I look forward to continuing with biblical anthropology next time. And I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

[1] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, translated by Justin O’Brien. Copyright 1955 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., the first line

[2] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship”, in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Simon and Schuster, 1961, pg 67

[3] From Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the opening line of Act III, Scene I

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] Plato, Apology, in The Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 7 – Plato, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pg.210

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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Dr. Spencer, last time you made the argument that the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God and, since the Bible is our ultimate standard, we must accept what it says. It seems that the real issue here is one of authority, wouldn’t you agree?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Authority clearly is the key issue. And authority is a bad word in modern society.

Marc Roby: It certainly is. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker you occasionally see that says “question authority”.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, I’ve seen that bumper sticker. I also remember a cartoon I saw once though. It showed a guy who had obviously just died and was in line waiting to see St. Peter at the gate of heaven. He had on a T-shirt that said “question authority” and the person in front of him in line looked at his shirt and said something like “bummer of a shirt to have on today.”

Marc Roby: That would be an unfortunate choice of clothing. And God is the ultimate authority imaginable.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We should never approach him without fear and trepidation.

Marc Roby: In fact, Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the Bible repeats that idea in a number of places. I think the key notion here is one of humility. As we discussed in Session 2, one of the most important things we need to grasp is the creator/creature distinction. God is the creator, we are just creatures. We are, to be sure, marvelous creatures. When you look at what a world-class scientist, or musician, or artist, or athlete can do it is truly amazing. But, rather than idolize the person to whom such gifts have been given, we should stand in awe of the one who gave him such amazing gifts.

Marc Roby: But, sadly, man most wants to exalt himself and refuses, in his natural state, to willingly submit to the authority of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has a wonderful short book on Authority[1] and I am going to draw from it in what we discuss today. He makes the point that much of what is wrong with the modern church is its lack of authority. He suggests, I think quite rightly, that one of the things that attracts some people to the Roman Catholic church, and to various cults as well, is that they speak and act as if they had authority.

It is somewhat paradoxical, but in spite of our natural aversion to being under authority, most people actually desire authority; at least in the sense that they desire an authoritative statement about the purpose of life and how they are to live it. We tend to not like uncertainty, but to have certainty requires authority.

Marc Roby: Of course, many people today would deny that objective truth even exists, but without objective truth, you can’t have certainty.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Although, such people often contradict themselves because they are quite certain of the absolute objective truth of the statement that absolute objective truth doesn’t exist. In any event, Lloyd-Jones makes the point that people throughout history have been trying to find ultimate truth through their own efforts.

Marc Roby: But, of course, they have miserably failed.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they have. And the Bible deals with this issue in the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of the most quoted and misrepresented books in the Bible because it deals with an honest attempt by the writer to figure out the meaning of life. He is called “The Teacher” in the book, and many think that it was Solomon who wrote it. But, independent of who wrote the book, it was someone who had achieved great success, fortune, power and fame in this world, and yet found it all unfulfilling without God.

Marc Roby: I can relate to that feeling; there are many things in life that you look forward to and, then, when you achieve them, you find that they aren’t nearly as wonderful as you thought they would be.

Dr. Spencer: I can second that comment. And the Teacher in Ecclesiastes states it very clearly at the start of the book. In Ecclesiastes 1:2 he says, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” [2] That word “meaningless” can also be translated, as it in the King James Version, as vanity. It can also be translated as breath, as it is, for example, in Psalm 39, verse 5, where we read “Each man’s life is but a breath.” So, the idea is clear. The Teacher is saying that life is like a breath, here one moment, gone the next. It is of no real consequence or significance. And then he goes on to explain why he says this. Beginning in verse 3 he writes, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.” And he goes on in this vein for some time.

Marc Roby: Not exactly an uplifting passage, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it’s not uplifting at all. And it isn’t meant to be. It is, however, an accurate picture of the way things are if we imagine a world where there is no God. The Teacher goes on in the book to consider the meaning of gaining wisdom, or riches, or of indulging in every pleasure imaginable, and he concludes that none of it has any real deep, lasting significance. A phrase that is repeated nine times in the book sums it up well, he says it is all “a chasing after the wind”.

Marc Roby: Now that is a great image. You can chase the wind all day long and you’ll never catch it.

Dr. Spencer: True. It’s a fabulous image to have in mind. But, it also conveys a serious message. Life without God is meaningless. If the materialistic worldview were correct, and I argued in Session 1 that it is not, then we would be left with despair and depression. In fact, there is a great quote from Bertrand Russell, the great English philosopher and mathematician of the early 20th century. In his essay “A Free Man’s Worship”, he wrote about a materialistic view of life with unusual and insightful candor. Let me quote a few snippets to put in context the quote I really want to get to. He wrote, “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving”[3], in other words, we are result of blind evolution. And he went on to say that “no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; [] all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system”, and then he concluded this passage with the quote I want to examine. He wrote, “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Marc Roby: Wow. I hope you don’t mind if I stay out of that building, it doesn’t sound safe to me.

Dr. Spencer: You don’t have to worry Marc. That building is only entered by those who deny the existence of God. But, as I said, he wrote with uncommon candor and insight. His statement lines up quite nicely with statements by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. If you try to find meaning and purpose in life without God, you end up frustrated and in despair.

Now, we must admit of course that the mere fact that life without God is meaningless does not in any way prove that God exists. There are many today who would say, in essence, that we just need to suck it up and deal with the unpleasant realities that when we die we’re gone and that life has no intrinsic value or purpose. But, as I argued in Session 1, an atheistic worldview is, I think, intellectually untenable in light of all that we now know about the world we live in. And, further, as the Bible itself tells us, everyone knows that God exists, although many will deny that they know it. So, rather than building on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair” as Russell counsels, I prefer to build on the firm foundation of God’s Word – which is why, by the way, the theme music for this series is the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The first line reads, “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

Marc Roby: That is a great hymn. And Russell is a great example of what Paul tells us in Romans 1 – that men suppress the truth; and it seems that some, like Russell, are much better at suppressing it than others. But, how does this all relate back to the topic of authority?

Dr. Spencer: I think it relates very directly. You see, the issue is that man wants certainty, and he wants to believe in a benevolent and almighty protector and a wonderful life after this one and so on, but he does not want anyone telling him what to do, and he certainly does not want to be judged. So, he suppresses the truth he knows – that God exists – and searches for some kind of certainty apart from God, which drives him to Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair”. I don’t know a great deal about Russell’s life, but I do know that he was divorced three times and married four times, so I’m going to hazard a guess that he wasn’t too thrilled about God’s view of marriage, to point out just one example of why people don’t like authority.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s response to his vision of God on the throne, he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips”.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse. I also think of the apostle Peter. Remember the story in Luke, Chapter Five, where Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, and then Christ told him to lower his nets and all of a sudden he had such a huge catch that the nets began to break and the boat began to sink? He had some glimpse of who Jesus really is and his response was to say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

That is the response of any reasonable person when he contemplates coming before a just, holy and omnipotent God. God knows everything I have ever done, said, thought or felt. And he will bring all of it to his perfect bar of justice. That is terrifying. It should be terrifying, because we are sinners who deserve God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: And God is the one with authority, and power, to judge our sin. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes came to the right conclusion in the end, we read in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly the right conclusion. So, authority is, as you said at the beginning, the issue of central importance. It is also why we are spending time in these podcasts to establish the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and why we are interested in then exploring what God commands us to believe and do in that Word. It is only in his Word that we find out that we can escape this terrifying judgement by placing our trust in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to note that God does not request, or suggest that we do, or don’t do, certain things; he commands.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important distinction. And to command requires authority. As I said early on, in his book on authority Lloyd-Jones points out that a major problem with the modern church is a lack of authority. And I think that, in large part, that lack of authority stems from a lack of faith in the Word of God, which is also one of the points Lloyd-Jones makes.

But, if we believe in the authority and infallibility of the Bible, and I do, then when we speak about what the Word says, we are speaking with authority. The modern church should not approach preaching as though we are just offering people one idea out of many, which they are free to examine and decide, with human reason as the ultimate authority, whether it’s right or not. We must preach the truth with conviction and clarity, and with authority. If God opens a person’s eyes to the truth, then they will respond. If he doesn’t, then they will not respond.

But, when we preach the Word of God we must speak with authority. The Bible tells us who God is, what he loves and what he hates, and it is filled with commands for his creatures to obey.

Marc Roby: And Jesus sets the example for us, doesn’t he? He spoke with absolute authority when he was here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly did. One of my absolute favorite passages of Scripture is in Luke 8, where we read about Jesus and his disciples heading out to sail across the Sea of Galilee. On the way, Jesus fell asleep, which is clear sign that he was fully human. But then, we are told that a squall came up, the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. So, we read in verses 24-25, “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’”

I love that passage because, in addition to showing that Jesus was fully human, it also clearly shows his divinity. You notice that he didn’t pray for God to quiet the storm, he simply rebuked the wind and the waves himself. Only God can do that! And so, it shows how Jesus spoke with authority, even authority over the inanimate creation.

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where we read in Matthew 7:28-29 that, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And there are many other places too. In the Sermon on the Mount you just mentioned, Jesus gave authoritative interpretations of the Ten Commandments to show the people they were wrong in their understanding. For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, we read that he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We see a number of places where Jesus says similar things, “you have heard”, followed by “but I tell you”. He is claiming the authority of God himself. He is making his own words and interpretations equal to the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: When I read passages like the one you just quoted, I’m always surprised to hear people who call themselves Christians and think that Christ did away with the Old Testament law.

Dr. Spencer: So am I. It is relatively easy to not commit the physical act of adultery, but to avoid even a lustful look? That is much, much harder I’m afraid.

Marc Roby: I agree. And yet, the Bible presents us with a holy God who commands us to live holy lives as well.

We are out of time for today, and we’ve taken a bit of a detour to discuss this issue of authority, but I think it is an important topic. I look forward to continuing our discussion next time.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Ed. By R.E. Egner & L.E. Denonn, Simon and Schuster, 1961

 

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